Steamboat Springs Orchestra reaches out to local youths
December 7, 2009
The trill of the violins felt like a light frost blanketing a cool fall morning.
The rush of the violas and cellos sounded like the hurried winter wind on a blustery day.
And, as Vivaldi's "L'Inverno," or Winter, surged to its conclusion, the image of boots stomping in a fresh snow danced from every string in the Steamboat Springs Orchestra, just as its composer intended.
But aside from the sounds and feelings of winter, the orchestra had a more important message in its program during Friday night's holiday concert at the Moffat County High School auditorium.
The message showed in the bright faces of the children who were invited up on stage to play the sleigh bells alongside the orchestra.
It showed in the way violin soloist Willy Gunn's teacher, Theresa Steffen-Greenlee, praised her young student with compliments and constructive criticism after the show.
It glowed from the faces of the MCHS jazz and chamber choirs, who were invited to sing a medley of carols as the orchestra played behind them.
For the orchestra's music director Ernest Richardson, the gift of music in children's lives is one that cannot be ignored.
"Just in my heart, I know how important it is," Richardson said after the concert ended. "I know what music does in people's lives. I know the sense of self it develops, the character it builds."
The orchestra's use of local children and choirs to enhance its holiday concert in Craig stemmed from the orchestra's strong outreach program, designed to develop interest in music early in education.
Richardson said for children to be interested in something, they have to be involved with it and feel it in their hands, like the young boy on stage who learned to play the sleigh bells in front of a crowd of 100 people and a professional orchestra.
"I believe that people have to be involved with making music, and then they'll be more interested in it," he said. "Like when a kid plays little league baseball, he's going to watch the major leagues and know what's going on because he's done that play before. They can really appreciate it."
He said watching the faces of his two volunteers at each performance only reaffirms the group's mission of music outreach.
"Young people are just so open, so willing to play along," he said.
He said he also was impressed by the discipline and preparation by the high school choirs, who were invited by the orchestra to sing a medley of Renaissance carols and lead an audience sing-a-long of popular Christmas songs.
"We only had two rehearsals together," he said. "It's a huge challenge for them to sing with an orchestra behind it. I was just so impressed with their discipline and they were really excited."
After the show concluded, members of the orchestra chatted quietly as they packed up their instruments.
But violist Tanya Kunkel doesn't only use her instrument during rehearsals and concerts.
She brings it into her music classroom at East Elementary School, where she uses her instrument, her experience and her love of music to enrich her students' lives.
"My students are singing 'Hot Chocolate,' too," she said. "It's a fast song, but they really like it."
She said she saw a few members of her choir in the audience and saw how captivated they were by the caliber of musicians on the stage before them.
"It's so important to have the orchestra come to Craig," she said. "We have to keep music in our schools and keep encouraging young students to get involved in singing and playing instruments when they're old enough."
In her classroom each day, she sees the effect that music has on her students, even though most will go on to pursue other things in life.
"It's academic, it's creative and it's even an emotional release, which is so important for young children," she said. "It brings so much to kids' lives."